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Going Social: Checking Out Online HotSpots

Posted on 2.11.2007

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Social media is hot. Wikipedia (www.wikipedia.org), a social encyclopedia where users generate every bit of the content, defines social media in this way: “Social media describes the online tools and platforms that people use to share opinions, insights, experiences and perspectives with each other. Social media can take many different forms, including text, images, audio and video. Popular social mediums include blogs, message boards, podcasts, wikis and vlogs.” Of course, that definition could change any day. It may have already changed. Thus is the nature of user-generated content.

It’s near impossible to read anything about the Internet today without hearing about social media. While NewsCorp.’s purchase of MySpace in 2005 — at what looks today like an incredible discount — signaled the official recognition of social media’s power for many, it was when Google bought YouTube for a staggering $1.65 billion that the public as a whole took notice. Undoubtedly, as the Web-savvy person that you are, social media is nothing new. But some mysteries remain. Everyone is still waiting to see how Google will capitalize on its investment, while many are debating the exact value of social media for advertisers, business owners and website owners. Others are already taking advantage of these Web hotspots by driving traffic to their websites, gaining notoriety, market share and, inevitably, making money.

Social Media Optimization
Going social with your message, utilizing the power of consumer generated advertising and actively participating in these arenas requires a skill set and resources that most of us already have. All that’s really needed is a personal network and plenty of insightful and valuable content that motivates others to share the message. Social media is, in many ways, very similar to viral marketing. If you have a message that other people find interesting, informative or entertaining, there exists a good chance that people will pass it along. And social media and networking sites are not just a natural extension, but the essence of viral marketing. While the upward trending statistics about the popularity of social media cannot be debated, it’s essential to understand the best practices about using these networks if you plan on capitalizing on them for the benefit of your Web enterprise.

YouTube and Other Video Sites
Visit any industry blog these days and you can read about how video is the next, big thing. While the majority of Web marketers have been busy utilizing SEO and PPC to promote their sites, others were already using and benefiting from online videos — long before high-profile pundits speculated video and user-generated content to have a profound impact on our daily lives. Google’s acquisition of YouTube in late 2006 only solidified online video’s place in the future of the Web. Savvy marketers have looked not just at YouTube but other video portals as well to gain access to additional audiences and a deeper reach into their existing communities.

In order to reap the potential rewards of increased exposure from YouTube and others such as MetaCafe, Revver and iFilm, you must first record some video. There are a variety of ways to capture what you need. Webcams, digital video cameras, even mobile phones can record adequate video clips. While it’s not necessary to provide a highend video replete with special effects and snappy camera angles that could cost a small fortune, presenting a quality effort will result in far greater rewards.
 

There are hundreds of qualified companies which can work with you directly to create content for distribution through video channels.

If you choose to go it alone, keep in mind that it is important to have a reasonably well developed product. Copy the video onto your PC or Mac and use their built-in MovieMaker or iMovie programs to develop clips into a professional presentation. Many aspiring video producers are also taking advantage of services such as JumpCut.com, which enables video marketers to upload media, grab shared media and create and remix raw content into a refined, finished product.

YouTube limits videos to 10 minutes on free accounts and no more than 100MB so it is important to reduce the quality (only slightly) when saving prior to uploading. This will shrink the overall video size and send it much faster, as well as cut down on load time for end users. YouTube will then convert it for display on their  website. If you have some time constraints, consider uploading either late at night or early in the morning as it is often much faster to process.

YouTube and the other video outlets provide website owners some clear and valuable benefits. Introducing yourself or your product through video gives users the impression that you are confident in your abilities and whatever it is that you are offering. Currently used overwhelmingly for entertainment purposes, there are few videos used as an educational or informational tool. This is not to say that educational and informational videos do not fare as well as singing teenagers or sports bloopers. In all reality, on average they fare just as well, if not better. When used correctly, this leaves a great deal of potential for small business and massive corporations alike.

For example, TomsHardware.com, a division of TG Publishing routinely features do-it-yourself (DIY) videos — recently a DIY projector screen. While generating a mere 1,200 views, YouTube listed no fewer than 15 glowing comments on the video. And what stood out the most was that the video was more than just a guide to creating a wall projector from an LCD screen. It offered up a mini commercial for those that made the video for YouTube — TomsHardware.de. It ended up acting as free, widespread publicity to a captive audience that walked away entertained, educated and exposed to a specific marketing message.

From a marketing viewpoint, videos not only help get your message in front of your customers but extend your reach, making it easier to promote and sell your products or services. It is one more tool every online marketer should have in their marketing arsenal or at least on their radar. For many however, video is more than just the future of online marketing, it’s the primary means of exposure and millions are taking full advantage of it right now.

YouTube MetaData
For videos and even photos (e.g., Flickr), it is very important to concentrate on creating a detailed description and including the right keywords if you want your video seen and indexed. While many don’t focus on this step, those who do have their videos indexed by search engines and will have their materials seen quickly, often and repeatedly. It is very possible to own the video keyword and receive free, viral branding and traffic by following one essential step — metadata optimization.

The metadata for your website is similar to the metadata you will provide to YouTube and others. The best metadata (titles, descriptions, keywords or tags) are created for two audiences; first for the viewer and then for the search engines. Viewers primarily make their decision based on title, placement and thumbnail stills, but it’s a good idea to optimize video descriptions for the long-term benefit of search engine traffic. As in website meta tags, the first few words are the most important so it is essential to take great care in crafting metadata that is both appealing to the user and able to be indexed by search engines. There are literally millions of videos circulating on the Internet at any given moment so be sure to describe yours uniquely, but as accurately as possible. Metadata can be included during the traditional upload process.

More YouTube Optimization
The creation of video site maps on your website is exceedingly important for search engine optimization. On these site maps, it is most important to optimize the anchor text used to point to the video. The video you have created is not just being shown through popular video channels but, ideally, to visitors of your website as well.

It should probably also go without saying that it’s crucial to leave plenty of lead time for indexing if you plan on getting a top position at natural search engines for a keyword set like “home improvement videos”.

A few more tips to wrap up YouTube optimization: analyze the competition and find out how and where your video can get the best bang for the buck, watermark your content (especially if you’re worried about copyright infringement) and always consider branding a top priority by including “tell-a-friend” functionality at the end of the video or mixing in your own advertorial.

MySpace and Social Networking
When it comes to social networking, there are literally hundreds of services, but none compare to the phenomenon that is MySpace. With millions of users and billions of monthly page views it is clearly the leader in social networking.

You might have heard that it is only a hangout for teens and that the MySpace generation is a young, anti-establishment group. That fear may be keeping many businesses from joining. While there is certainly a large contingency of MySpace users that fit the commonly-believed mold, that theory is becoming outdated. More businesses are joining the fray every day and the MySpace crowd is not as young as you may think. A 2006 comScore study revealed half of MySpace users are 35
or older.

Increasingly, businesses are stepping up and establishing their own profiles and promoting them within the MySpace community. There are certainly more credibility challenges in MySpace promotion than elsewhere on the Web, but the benefits are evident and abundant.

Getting Started With MySpace
The first step is to create a profile with your company name and logo, designed in a fashion similar to your existing website. Maintaining the theme and respect of your company is as important as anything you will do in the MySpace arena — as much care and thought you put into your website should be put in your MySpace profile page. Fortunately, MySpace profiles take a matter of minutes to design and launch. While many MySpace pundits fully vested in the medium suggest creating multiple profiles to create the greatest effect, that is a decision to be made based on your understanding of the medium and your willingness to design and maintain multiple profiles and the inevitable work that follows.

You will probably want a different background for your page other than simple white. The easiest way to do this is by conducting a search for MySpace backgrounds or layouts. There are thousands of choices. Find one you like, copy the code and paste it into the “about me” section of your page. Next, fill in as much or as little descriptive information about your company, who you would like to be in contact with and what goals you have. Detailed descriptions help attract casual visitors so crafting an intelligible and entertaining profile will be to your benefit. Then upload some images, including your company logo. Finally, start accumulating friends — MySpace contacts and associates and the bread and butter of MySpace networking.

Networking and Socializing with MySpace
The beauty of MySpace optimization is that it’s truly social. Friends are the most powerful aspect of optimizing. If you plan on promoting products or services, a network of responsive friends is imperative. You can easily build your friend list by searching other users’ profiles, participating in forums and joining groups and then making direct contact with others via their profile. As of this writing, there are more than three million groups listed in the MySpace network. They cover everything from Computers & Internet to Hobbies & Crafts. In addition, if you find that your area of concentration is missing, you can create your own group and invite anyone you wish.

Once you have a substantial friend list, posting on your blog, commenting on your friends’ sites and sending bulletins keeps you in front of your new MySpace crowd. To generate conversions from bulletin postings you’ll need to have a sizable friend list or multiple profiles but take care not to overdo it and limit the advertising jabber — be subtle but creative. Start overpowering your friends or concocting messages with a spam feeling to them and you may find your page friendless or worse, your profile deleted.
 


Social Networking in Action
While preparing this article, we decided there would be no better way to discuss social media and social networking than digging into it ourselves. One of the ways we did this was by creating Website Magazine’s MySpace page, found at www.myspace.com/websitemagazine. It took about 15 minutes to set up our page and within one hour we had our first “friend,” MasterLink — a Dallas, TX Web design, development and Internet marketing firm. So, we decided to contact MasterLink and start networking right away. Read the interview now.

 
MySpace is a social networking community and, just like any other society, in order to make new friends and build up credibility, you need to socialize. This includes visiting your friends’ sites, leaving comments, posting bulletins and participating in forums and group discussions. Don’t be afraid to sell, but understand that transparency is vital so don’t be shy about your intentions. If other users don’t want anything to do with you, or don’t want your marketing message they simply won’t be your friends. But there are plenty of friends to be made that will indeed be interested in your products or services. And the clearer you are about your intentions, the better. Becoming genuine friends will eventually result in your acceptance in the community and the products or services you suggest will be taken much more seriously.

Digg and Social Bookmarking
Digg.com is one of the most popular ways many professional marketers engage in social media. But the site has also become a lightning rod for criticism. Of late, there has been no more apparent scapegoat for the ills of social media than Digg — thanks to every website owner from San Francisco to San Juan gaming the system for a front page story. A round of bans took effect in late December 2006, preventing several sites from participating in the network and sending a stern warning to potential abusers. While it would be helpful to take a peek behind the Digg algorithm curtain to learn exactly why these sites were banned, if you play by the rules and you shouldn’t have many problems. Those participating fully in the network can expect big rewards of increased exposure and big branding opportunities — plain and simple.

Joining the Digg community is as simple as registering on the site. Registered users then submit newsworthy, or “Diggworthy” content by posting an originating URL along with a short summary of the news item. You can submit just about anything to Digg. This includes videos, stories, blog entries, funny pictures and product reviews.

Once a post is made, other community users roam the site and vote on Digg worthy content — called Digging. When a vote has been cast, the story has been Dugg. The effect is something of a watershed. When a story gains momentum, more users start Digging it and, before long, the item is catapulted to the front pages of the site — the epitome of Digg success and what every user desires. Very quickly, thousands upon thousands of users are reading the message, looking at the picture or watching the video. It’s an incredible opportunity to get your message seen by a large number of prospects in a very short period of time. But you have to know what you’re doing and treat the system with respect. Otherwise, users will click to bury your story or worse, you could get banned from Digg altogether.
 


Experiencing the DIGG Effect
Website Magazine had a fortunate opportunity to see the “Digg Effect” in full force. After writing an article on the trend of publishers being banned from AdSense titled “Banned from AdSense — It’s Your Own Darn Fault,” a reader posted the article on StumbleUpon and was then picked up and posted on Digg.  The results, based on traffic for a 24-hour period, were roughly 20,000 visits. The traffic did generate several subscriptions to the magazine and the RSS feed but little else — just a handful of advertiser clicks.

 
Optimizing for Digg and similar services
Start with something to say. That may sound simple and obvious, but many of the stories featured on Digg are not of the highest quality which, in many respects, results in the steamrolling of those posts. It’s probably best to start with something genuinely interesting or newsworthy. Spend some time looking around the site at other popular posts in your area of concentration — not to copy them but to get an idea of the kind of chatter floating around. Digg has systems in place to prevent duplicate stories from being submitted but if you’re submitting your own original content it’s not anything to worry about. In fact, it’s better if you don’t submit your content at all — let others do the work for you. If you write enough interesting material and spread it around the Web, you may be picked up and submitted by other Digg users. It’s a very credible and unobtrusive way to get noticed in a social community.

Participate with learning in mind. Social networks, just like the communities in which we participate in the offline world, require dedication, openness and honesty. It’s simply not enough to submit all your own stories and not participate in the conversations of others. Find upcoming stories that have the potential to reach the homepage, are related to your site and have little or no comments. If you have something worthy to say and can relate it to a page on your website then you can try to comment and add a link to your website. If you are concerned about promoting the news of your competition, don’t be — consider it an exercise in research.

Additionally, once that story has started to rise in the rankings, you can write your own post on your own blog, get it submitted to Digg and ride the wave of that original post that you helped promote. Two other Digg-type social bookmarking sites worth looking into are del.iciou.us and the revamped NetScape.

Going Social on Your Site
The objective of most Web marketers in the age of social media is to turn website visitors into product and service evangelists. There are hundreds, if not thousands of tools, services and methods to add interactivity to your pages. It’s an effective way to enable those that have taken the time to visit your site to spread the word to others. For example, Yahoo! Action buttons from the Yahoo! Publisher network allow website owners to easily include access to bookmarking service del.icio.us, send updates by email and blog via Yahoo! 360.

To begin harnessing the power of social media and reach beyond elementary solutions such as blogging, discussion forums and user chat, consider taking “going social” a step further. It’s becoming increasingly easier and more cost-effective to mimic or clone popular sites and engage in consumer-generated media. Below are some of the ways website owners are “socializing” their sites or setting up new pages related to their original websites.

Digg Clones
Everyone wants to have the traffic that Digg has, but the community system used is ideal for small, niche communities as well. Consider the Pligg content management system (www.pligg.com). Pligg is open source and provides a near identical Digg voting and comment system and a robust user and admin interface.

Del.icio.us Clones
Sharing is what social media is all about. Del.icio.us has nearly cornered the market on all things tagging related, but there are several sites which can give topical communities the same relative functionality at an open-source price point. Scuttle (www.scuttle.org) is one such social bookmarking tool (PHP/MySQL) which enables users to store, share and tag their favorite content.

MySpace and YouTube Clones
MySpace and YouTube have changed the dynamic of the Web into a more creative and hyper-interactive space. What these sites do well is let their users engage each other. If you have a community who needs or wants to interact, take a look at StockScripts (www.stockscripts.com) which offers supported and non-supported clones of both MySpace and YouTube.

Paid Social Services
Managing your website’s day-to-day operations can be a time-consuming chore. So, for some, adding social functionality can create yet another host of daily management concerns  that can cause more headaches than benefits. If you have the resources, paid social service hosting can be the solution.

Social Platform (www.socialplatform.com) is one such service. Eric Schlissel, President and CEO stated, “Our goal is to keep our clients on the forefront of what is happening.” Social Platform offers services such as member profiles, groups, forums, galleries, content and member ratings, rewards and promotion programs, member-to-member messaging and e-commerce functions. All of their services are adaptable as the needs of the client changes. “It’s very entrepreneur-friendly,” said Schlissel. “Half of our staff has been in business for themselves.”

Putting it all together
It should be obvious by now that the new media is all about socialization and participation. Getting involved in the discussion — and staying involved — can make a big difference for any business, small or large. The benefits are real and the effort is minimal. MySpace profiles can be created in minutes, signing on to Digg takes less than one minute, and creating videos for the Web has never been easier. Keeping active in these communities does require some time and dedication, but it’s worth it. Reaching out to prospects has suddenly become faster and more efficient through these channels and they should be taken advantage of. Chances are, your competitors are doing the same.

There is no shortage of other social sites that have not been mentioned and would require another entire issue to cover. However, listed below are a few more popular sites worth checking out. So sit down, fix yourself a cocktail and start socializing. www.del.icio.us: This social bookmarking website lets users discover, store and share popular information.

www.Flickr.com: The leading online photo management and sharing application with a robust online community.

www.reddit.com: Up and coming Digg competitor. Read, vote and explore submitted content or share your own.

www.Facebook.com: Akin to MySpace but infinitely more organized. Popular mainly with the college-age demographic.

www.newsvine.com: Increasingly popular site where users write the news, read, discuss and interact with others in the community.


add to furl add to del.icio.us add to technorati add to blinklist add to digg add to google add to stumbleupon add to yahoo
 
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